LOS ANGELES — The LA Clippers ruled Kawhi Leonard out several hours before Thursday’s 129-124 Game 3 loss to the Phoenix Suns because of a sprained right knee.
Leonard aggravated his right knee at the end of the Clippers’ Game 1 victory and played through it in the Suns’ Game 2 win according to Lawrence Frank, Clippers president of basketball operations.
Leonard’s injury is not related to the torn right ACL injury that kept him out of all of last season, a source told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Leonard will be monitored and evaluated daily and is considered day-to-day with the Clippers having a quick turnaround before Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. PT tip for Game 4.
“Symptoms got worse after Game 2,” Frank said before Game 3. “Obviously, if we weren’t comfortable with [Leonard] playing [in Game 2], we wouldn’t have. But after the game, things didn’t get better. They got worse. So we will rule him out and kind of take it day by day.”
Clippers head coach Ty Lue said he learned of Leonard’s knee injury on Wednesday night and was informed before the team’s Thursday morning shootaround that he would not have Leonard available.
“I feel sorry for Kawhi because he’s worked so hard to get to this point,” Lue said. “But all the guys, we’ve got to step up, and they understand that. We’ve been in this position before, and we’ve just got to control what we can control.”
Already without the injured Paul George (right knee sprain), the Clippers now have the tall task of having to defend home court against the Suns without their two franchise stars as the best-of-seven series stood at 1-1 entering Thursday night.
Frank said that Leonard’s injury will not speed up George’s return from his injury, which George suffered on March 21. George is likely out for the first-round series, sources told Wojnarowski before Game 1.
“He’s made progress,” Frank said of George, who has been working out and shooting on the court. “But his recovery time hasn’t changed because Kawhi is out tonight. He continues to work his butt off and make progress daily. So, day by day.”
The Clippers entered Game 3 having previously gone 3-9 in the 12 games that they played this season without both Leonard and George.
Leonard played 42 minutes and had 38 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in a 115-110 win at Phoenix in Game 1. When asked about the heavy minutes he logged in the victory, Lue after that win on Sunday that this was why the Clippers carefully worked Leonard’s minutes and workload up all season long and “what we’ve been saving up for.” Leonard sat out at least one game in back-to-backs until the final two sets of back-to-backs of the season.
Leonard played 39 minutes and had 31 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the Suns’ 123-109 win in Game 2.
The two-time Finals MVP is averaging 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 54.5% from the field in the first round, adding to his sterling playoff reputation.
Without Leonard, the Clippers will lean even more on Russell Westbrook, who is averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
“He desperately, desperately wants to play,” Frank said of Leonard. “This is the playoffs. This is what these guys live for, especially him, where he’s one of the few players in the history of this game, the highest level of players, that his game just gets better and better.
“He’s extremely disappointed and frustrated he can’t play tonight.”